Title: The Shore Thing
Author: Martyn Palmer
Publication: UK – Total Film
Issue: July 2006
Inside the vast Atlantis Resort Hotel (think Las Vegas in the Bahamas), a multitude of mostly American tourists are going about the business of having fun with serious intent. The slot machines bleep, the drinks are served in primary colours then consumed in vast amounts, and there’s a queue forming for the ‘swim with the dolphins’ tour. Nobody pays much attention to the strange-looking guy with dreadlocks and beard, a man adorned with enough bangles and beads to stock a Camden market stall.
He weaves his way through the hotel lobby throng, orange shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal a number of tattoos, murmuring a polite “‘Scuse me,” mouth glinting with gold tooth. Some people – just a few, mind – give him a puzzled second glance as he disappears into an anonymous conference room”, and then continue about their business. Sure, looks a little different from the pasty skinned shorts and t-shirt brigade — but, hey; maybe he’s a member of the Calypso band that’s playing that night.
Johnny Depp isn’t filming today. Yesterday, out on his (or rather Captain Jack Sparrow’s) treasured vessel, The Black Pearl, he was in full regalia. Today he’s in partial ensemble: missing his bandana, battered three-cornered hat, pistol (authentic, made in London in 1712, with silver inlay) and swinging cutlass. Had he gone for the full Keith-Richards-meets-salty-sea-dog apparel, he‘d have perhaps stopped even this crowd of party-lovers from glugging their cocktails. The irony being, of course, that most of these very same holiday makers will be paying to see Depp when he returns as Captain Jack, the somewhat unlikely contender to the summer box-office crown.
When Depp signed up for Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl back in 2003, there were plenty who questioned the wisdom of making a film based on a theme-park ride. Others scoffed at the very idea of a pirate movie, memories of Renny Harlin’s 1996 disaster Cutthroat Island still lingering. And still others reckoned Depp had sold out. How could cinema’s chief exponent of weird – Tim Burton’s poster boy, no less – make a Jerry Bruckheimer event movie?
But Depp, Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski – and indeed Disney – had the last laugh. Pirates not only pillaged and plundered the box-office for all it was worth, it also charmed the critics (“This is everything a pirate movie ought to he and a dollop more,” cooed Total Film way back in issue 80).
“The first Pirates Of The Caribbean made around $600 million” says Bruckheimer with the tiniest hint of a self-satisfied smile. The uber producer has joined Depp and, of course, Total Film in the conference room. “And that’s just theatrical revenue. lt’s not counting DVDs and all the other stuff?”
Little surprise, then, that Depp’s back for more. For Johnny though, it was never about the money. Well, not entirely. Mention the rumour that he’s being paid $37 million for Pirates 2 and 3 – the two pictures shooting virtually back to back – and he makes light of it. “Jesus,” he says with a comically-cocked eyebrow, “Can someone call my business manager? I’ve a series of questions for him!”
But whatever the numbers (and you can bet they’re pretty huge, $57 million or not), Depp is now a box-office megastar, as opposed to the star of critically adored but often little-seen movies such as Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. And you know what? He’s having a great time doing it.
“For me, there was one reason and one reason only to do more,” he says, bangles jangling as he scratches his tanned cheek.“Captain Jack. It was just selfishly to have the opportunity to play Jack again. Some people could look at it and say, ‘Ah, Depp’s sold out’ I don’t believe I have. It certainly wasn’t my intention to sell out. I wanted to play Captain jack again because he’s so much fun to play”
Filming started in February 2005 on several Hollywood soundstages and on location at various Caribbean islands, including the Bahamas and St Vincent. After a two months break in June, the cast and crew were back for the second leg of the long, hard shoot. There’s another break from March this year – so Verbinski could finish editing Dead Man’s Chest – and then they’ll get back together to finish the third instalment scheduled for release summer 2007.
It’s a mammoth undertaking with a budget for the two films in excess of $200 million. And while it’s primarily been a case of getting part two in the can and then moving on to part three, things haven’t been as simple as that. If the location demanded it, the swashbuckling cast and crew would switch from film to film.
“It’s a lengthy process,” says Depp. “And it’s going to take us a while. As much as we can, we’re doing Dead Man’s Chest at the moment, but then you might have to slot something in for Pirates 3. It works, mostly because we have a fantastic crew and Gore keeps on top of it. He’s the guy with a lot to contend with.”
August. Three months have passed since Johnny, the rock’n’roll pirate looked so inconspicuous in the hotel lobby. The production is now sprawled out in Los Angeles, and Total File gingerly makes its way across Universal Studios’ biggest soundstage – the location of the massive set that will act as the backdrop to the opening sequence of number three.
Led by production designer Rick Heinrichs, a team of 140 craftsmen took two months to assemble this fanciful recreation of Singapore circa 1720. Three separate bridges link the ‘red lantern’ district, consisting of 40 bamboo buildings (22 on stilts), a bathhouse, a spice market and – this is where the red lanterns come in – various houses of ill repute. Impressive? Doubly so when you consider it all nestles next to a ‘lake’.
Dozens of extras, all in costume (some Oriental, some soldiers from the East India Trading Company), are waiting, to be called as Verbinski lines up a shot in the bathhouse which involves Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) fleeing from Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his men. It’s suffocatingly hot inside and most of Verbinski’s crew have stripped down to their shorts. Many of the actors needed for the scene wait in trailers parked on the back lot until they absolutely have to go in.
Total Film spies Mackenzie Crook (returning as one-eyed pirate Ragetti) showing his wife and young son around the elaborate set. He ambles over to say hello, but the sudden emergence of Keira Knightley from her trailer forces an abrupt U-turn.
“Yeah, it feels like we’ve been making Pirates 2 and 3 forever? she laughs, agreeing with Total Film ’s strikingly perspicacious observation that it’s been a fair old while. “And it’s hugely confusing, switching from one movie to the other. lt’s especially weird at the moment because we’re coming to the end of the number-three chunk, and will have to suddenly try and get our heads back into number two. But in a funny kind of way, it seems like one big long film as opposed to two separate films, which I suppose is a good thing, really?”
So when did the Matrix-like decision to shoot the second and third instalments as one giant jamboree come about? Perhaps the best man to answer that is Bruckheimer, a guy who’s never shy of a word or two. Confirming that he knew he wanted to do at least one sequel even when they were filming the first movie, he admits that Disney preferred to put of committing until it had seen just how many gold coins plunked into the box-office chest.
“We were thinking about doing a sequel all along but the studio wasn’t,” he says. “The press were slamming us for making a movie about a theme-park ride that involved pirates… so it wasn’t until the picture started making steam that we got the studio to say, ‘Yeah, let’s go! Start writing another one!’ It’s a pretty good bet, especially if you can get the same writers back, the same director and the same cast. Had that not all come together, I don’t think we would be here right now.”
The trick, of course, is trying to top the first one m not easy considering it’s one of the most exciting blockbusters of the past few years, mixing A—grade effects with B-movie plotting as Barbossa (Rush) and his undead crew attempt to escape a strange limbo between life and death by stealing the last coin of a pile of Aztec gold – the property of Bloom’s Will Turner, passed on to him by his father. Weave in Captain Jack trying to get his beloved ship back, Barbossa kidnapping Knightley’s Elizabeth and Will trying to rescue her while the British army is out to catch the whole bleeding lot of them, and you’ve got…. well, a movie that’s going to be hard to surpass.
Bruckheimer refuses to reveal plot details, but offers a wry grin as he concedes that “the anticipation for the movie is very high”
“We feel there’s a real want and need to see a continuation” he says. “And since we have created what we consider to be a full story between the three movies – because what you will see in the second and third movies relate in the first – it’s created a real arc and a real trilogy.
“It’s all about good storytelling. We have a number of new characters and we have a creature. It’s a bigger, funnier, more exciting script. I don’t know how the movie is going to turn out, butI1 know the script is wonderful and the dailies and footage I’ve seen are terrific.”
Geoffrey Rush clearly had a high old time of it playing the treacherous Barbossa, the salty ham who abandoned Captain Sparrow on a deserted island before hijacking The Black Pearl, it’s not difficult to work out why he would want to come back for more. No, the problem isn’t why more how – after all, he was killed off at the end of The Curse of the Black Pearl.
Unsurprisingly given the tight lipped nature of everyone on set (right down to the second tboy), Rush is sworn to secrecy regarding exact nature of Barbossa’s impressive comeback. But he does give a few tidbits away.
“The first movie is a prologue to a much bigger story in parts two and three” he begins. ‘And I think the sequels are going to take mythological dimensions, They’ll certainly press all the right buttons for fans. lt spins off on to an even grander level with the world of Davy Jones’ locker and sea monsters.”
Yes, with Davy Jones, the mythical undersea who claims the souls of errant seafarers. Of the few things we do know is that Captain Sparrow has sold his soul in return for some goodies, namely his ship. And now he must find a way of getting out of the pact before his time is up.
Jones is played by Bill Nighy another British member of a cast dominated by actors from the UK (as well as Bloom and Knightley, Jack Davnport is back as the straight-laced James Norrington and Kevin McNally again plays Joshamnee Gibbs).
“Jack Sparrow made a deal with Davy Jones, ‘ is like a deal with the Devil; a Faustian pact” says Nighy “And his time is up. He has to pay up. Of course, he spends the entire movie trying to think of every way not to pay up.”
Nighy was keen to take the part after seeing the first movie. He now regards it as the best decision he ever made. Depp is “terrific, a gentleman, a lovely guy”. Verbinski’s a “wonderful man, so clever and talented”. Bruckheimer’s “absolutely charming”. And the atmosphere on set is “in a class of its own; a category of one” But, best of all, are the memories of lazing around the Bahamas. “My luggage was books and my iPod,” he chuckles. “I’ve had worse times. The only problem was the lack of English football, and even then I got real Madrid and Barcelona every week. l got the champions’ League and fresh fish! Heaven”.
“Listen, it’s still a Disney pirate movie,” he says, shaking his head. “lt’s not like I’m going to go around slaughtering people unnecessarily. It’s not like I’m Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader in Star Wars!” So it’s all, to use an industry term, utter bollocks? “Well, there is a character development in the relationship with my father, and also my desire to release my father from his physical imprisonment,” he muses, referring, to ‘Bootstrap’ Bill Turner’s fate at the hands of the dreaded Davy Jones. ‘All the pirates under Davy’s command become these kind of…. well, grotesque sea creature monster things, which is basically a new and improved version of the skeletal pirates in the first Pirates”
New and improved could pretty much be the mantra for Pirates 2 and 3, with all the returnees eager to take the skills they learned first time out and build on them. Take the fight scenes. They were fun, even exhilarating, in The Curse of the Black Pearl, but expect more swash for your buckle in the sequels.
“The body is a muscle and the more you do, the more you get ‘muscle memory” says Bloom, promising that he and Depp are now really handy with a blade. “There’s a basic parry routine that works for pretty much any sword fight, and you vary it depending on what sword you’re using. I used to have to rehearse for weeks and weeks in advance, but now I can have like three or four sessions with the stunt guys and I pick it up. It’s quicker – a bonus”. And you’ve got to embrace all the bonuses that come your way on a production of this scale. “I’m reminded of the experience on Lord Of The Rings, where it was that feeling of a huge steam train and everyone is grabbing hold of it, trying, to get a ride. It’s madness. But, at the same time, it’s that madness, that feeling of a crazy kind of wild beast that’s running away from you which gives it the energy and excitement.”
Bruckheimer agrees. “Every day something breaks down. We had a storm in the Caribbean. We built this tank and the sand came in and we had to re-dig it and put a retaining wall in. Bet things like that happen on at daily basis: a ship won’t be ready on time, an actor gets sick. We had an actor get sick and he couldn’t fly from England. It’s just part of it being a big movie. When you’ve been doing it as long as I have, you just see it as daily events.”
But out of the chaos comes creativity. Out of the chaos comes “new and improved”. Just ask Rick Heinrichs. “The biggest challenge? Well, where do I start?” he laughs.“We built a cannibal village linked together with rape bridges. We were stringing rope bridges 80 and 100 feet high, between different areas. We obviously had to make it sate, but also rickety so it has to be something it can’t really be – unsafe” But that’s not all. Not by a long shot. “We’ve just finished shooting a set down on Palos Verdes [in California] that ties into the cannibal village scene. It was a cliff that we had to sculpt, an it had to tilt up and down – don’t ask why. It had to be engineered on hinges and we had to deal with it blowing in the wind and all that kind of stuff.” And there’s more… “I can’t actually remember how many boats we built, and I haven’t built boats before, so that was a challenge. We built a new Black Pearl for the two movies. The first was built on top of a barge, but it was restrictive, so we bought a 110 feet-long diesel-powered boat and built on top of that”
The result, we’re assured, is a faster sleeker model. Though Heinrichs is talking about Jack’s mode of transport, he might just as well be referring to the film as a whole. Told of his production designer’s rousing words, Bruckheimer beams. “Look, I can’t describe whether people are gonna spend six or 10 bucks to go and see Dead Mans Chest, because they can choose what they want to spend money on,” he says. “But I hope they’ll spend it our movie. They won’t be disappointed.